Pilot filmed for veterinary television show

‘Super Vets’ would highlight veterinary capabilities

Published: May 16, 2012
By Phyllis DeGioia

Photos courtesy of Dr. Leilani Alvarez & Kip Lyman
Drs. Leilani Alvarez and Ronald Lyman co-host a pilot television show, "Super Vets."
Dr. Ronald Lyman and Dr. Leilani Alvarez are stars in a pilot episode of a prospective television series dubbed “Super Vets.”       

The duo don’t swoop into the studio wearing capes, but they do highlight heroic feats in veterinary practice. The goal of the program is to showcase the breadth and complexity of veterinary medicine. This genre-defying show is staged before a live audience as well as in the field and uses real cases to educate viewers.

Lyman, an internal medicine specialist, owns the Animal Emergency and Referral Center in Fort Pierce, Fla., where he handles internal medicine, neurology and neurosurgery cases. Alvarez practices integrative medicine, which combines Western medicine with complementary and alternative medicine, at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She is certified in veterinary acupuncture, canine rehabilitation therapy and veterinary Chinese herbal medicine.      

The television series is the brainchild of producer Rick Dobbis, who lives in New York and Florida, where he met his “super vets.” Dobbis had brought his own dog, an English cocker spaniel, to each of the veterinarians. He was referred to Alvarez when he wanted to try a more holistic approach to medical care. He met Lyman when his dog was referred for hyperbaric oxygen therapy for arthritis and other conditions.      

Dobbis later approached the veterinarians about his idea for a show highlighting specialty veterinary medical services that many pet owners don't realize are available. The pilot was filmed late last year.     

A video clip posted online explains the show’s premise and offers a flavor of how the show would look, sound and feel.       

The VIN News Service visited with Lyman, Alvarez and Dobbis by telephone and email to find out more about the project.     

How did the show come about?   

Dobbis: To some degree, “Super Vets” is ... the legacy of our dog Dodger. My partner Mary Ann Koenig and I have an interest in TV programming. As we dealt with (Dodger’s) health issues over the years, particularly with some talented, interesting veterinarians — particularly specialists — we came to think that there is so much that would be informative and entertaining if it was put in front of the public. It would enhance their appreciation of their pets and all the animals on the planet. The people we met were so wonderful and talented. My hope is that we get it on the air so (viewers) can benefit from the terrific work that these two (veterinarians) and others are doing.       
What is “Super Vets” about?   
Lyman: This is a different concept — it's not going to be centered just at a hospital. There’s some live audience participation, there will be examples of the human-animal bond, looking at wildlife and other (things) such as going to a particular university that offers newer specialties like interventional medicine. The concept is to be diverse. It’s done at multiple sites. A wildlife photographer will be on show.       

What is the status of the pilot? When will it be aired?    
Dobbis: Right now, we're shopping the pilot.      

Lyman: It’s a matter of timing, connections, and people. ... Producers have agents, the agents go to syndicators, syndicators go to networks. (Getting picked up for a series) could happen in a week, year or never. ... (For me), it’s just a matter of waiting.       
Why do you want to do this?    
It is a good way to show more of the public that vets are much more than the low-cost vaccination clinic that people see outside the Walgreen's every two weeks, which is very disheartening to me. We want to be able to show the wide range of capabilities of vet med and we want to show everybody.      

You’re sure most people don’t know about most recent advances and availability of specialists?

Alvarez: Even people who are very dedicated to the care of their pets often don't know this type of medicine exists, they don't even realize it is offered. I am always surprised myself with the results I have (through the) holistic approach. A lot of times taking that different look on a problem is what yields success.

Lyman: I’ve been (in the business) for 50 years. I count the time when my father was a vet in Cleveland, and I became a kennel boy when I was 8. ... We've had a critical care hospital in this same area (of Florida) for over 30 years and you can see that there's a change in what people think vets can do and what they’re worth. Most people don't have an understanding of the knowledge, training, and capabilities of veterinarians. That's my feeling.      

As an example, several years ago when pet owners came into small animal ERs, about 50 percent of them said they had not been to a veterinarian with that particular animal before. Now at our ER hospital, that percentage is closer to 80 percent. That is a change we see at our hospital. We examine the records every day, what cases have come in, who people say their vet is. If the 80 percent have not been to a regular vet, they really don't know what it is vets do or should be doing for their animals. It's a big change. How many walk-in medical facilities do you see now? They pop up at every corner. I think one reason is because people don't have a regular physician. So if they walk into a regular vet, ER, or specialist, a high percentage don't have an appreciation for the things we do. That's one of the big reasons I was attracted to this pilot.      

How did you like being on camera? Hosting a television show seems quite different from practicing veterinary medicine. 

Alvarez: Being on camera was a new experience for me. I always enjoy a challenge, though, and I also have a background in teaching and often give presentations, so it actually was not as difficult as I thought it would be. The excitement of the live studio audience and talking about what I'm most passionate about also helped!  

The promotional clip depicts the miraculous recovery of a critically sick dog, Jaxson, through hyperbaric oxygen therapy. How many other miracle cases do you have as potential fodder for the show?   

Lyman: Actually, through modern veterinary medicine and emerging alternative therapies such as acupuncture and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, there are enough amazing recovery cases to present on the show for an indefinite period. They just keep coming!   

If the show is picked up, will you stop doing clinical work?      

Alvarez: While I can't predict the future, it's very important for me to continue practicing as a veterinarian. I have a close relationship with my clients and especially with my patients.

Lyman: I absolutely still plan to practice as I have since I graduated in 1977. The proposal is to have the show filmed at a local theater. I still come to this hospital seven days a week for rounds unless I'm traveling, which is rare. The show won't stop me from being a clinician.  

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